EU LEGAL SYSTEM
+ Law-Related Searches The EU legal portal is EUR-Lex, which provides free access to the EU law database in 20 languages.
The European Union is a democracy governed by the rule of law. Article 6(1) of the EU Treaty provides: "The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States."
Yet, the precise legal structure of the EU is still a complex one due to the history of its development.
Primary sources for the legal system of the EU are the Treaties, especially those relating to the Community (EEC, EC) and to the Union (EU), which are found online in both original as well as consolidated form. Consolidated texts are useful as they reflect amendments made by later treaties. However, such consolidations have no force of law. Only the original treaty text is the actual law.
One great advantage of the EU Constitution, if ratified, is its official consolidation of the legal structure of the EU into one document (except for EURATOM).
Without a constitution, the EU is governed by the community acquis (acquis communautaire), which is
"the body of common rights and obligations which bind all the Member States together within the European Union. It is constantly evolving and comprises: - the content, principles and political objectives of the Treaties; the legislation adopted in application of the treaties and the case law of the Court of Justice; the declarations and resolutions adopted by the Union; measures relating to the common foreign and security policy; measures relating to justice and home affairs; international agreements concluded by the Community and those concluded by the Member States between themselves in the field of the Union's activities."
Laws (Acts) of the European Union are initiated by the EU Commission and approved by codecision of both the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament (see Articles 251-254 of the EC Treaty and glossary, step-by-step and law-making flow chart).
Several types of secondary legislation also exist (Article 249 of the EC Treaty):
Regulations. "A regulation shall have general application. It shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States."
Directives. "A directive shall be binding, as to the result to be achieved, upon each Member State to which it is addressed, but shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form and methods."
Decisions. "A decision shall be binding in its entirety upon those to whom it is addressed."
Recommendations and opinions. "Recommendations and opinions shall have no binding force."
General Law Searches
Search by EU Title or Text
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Search the Official Journal
The Official Journal (OJ) publishes the laws of the European Union, which have primacy over the national laws of its Member States. The OJ is published daily in 20 languages, consisting of the "L series" on Legislation and the "C series on Information, Preparatory Acts and Notices. Both series were introduced in 1968. The "C series" includes also documents published only digitally. Prior to 1968 there was only one series, sometimes referred to unofficially as the "B series" or as the "P series". The Supplement S to the OJ (which calls for tenders) is published in the TED database in concert with SIMAP, the gateway to EU public procurement.
Specific Legal Searches
Search by Number
for a EU Regulation, EU Directive, EU Decision, COM final, or European Court case by Year and Number
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European Court Reports
All case-law was published in the single-volume European Court Reports, which, after the recent creation of the Court of First Instance in 1989, now consists of three volumes: I) judgments and opinions of the Court of Justice and opinions of the Advocates-General, II) judgments of the Court of First Instance are published in Volume II, and III) there is a separate publication for the case-law in staff cases: Court of Justice (Sole volume until 1990; Volume I from 1990) Court of First Instance (Volume II from 1990) Staff Cases (from 1995)
To consult a procedure using an exact reference, one can search by procedure reference, by dossier reference and by document reference in the European Parliament, in the European Commission, in the Council of the Union, in other EU institutions, bodies and in legislative acts.
To obtain information on interinstitutional activities and related procedures, one can search by rapporteur, by committee of Parliament, or political group; by Commission Directorate-General, or Council concerned; by subject: by main topic or by words in title of topic; by family or type of procedure; by stage reached in procedure; by event date: actual or forecast; or by legal basis.
Search by CELEX number
CELEX (Communitatis Europeae LEX) was the previous official fee-based legal database of the EC. See the CELEX manual. It is no longer updated.
| || | EULEGAL.ORG IS A REFERENCE TOOL TO SAVE TIME RESEARCHING THE EUROPEAN UNION
The twenty-five EU Member States are linked left below: The first link is the EU country site;
the second link is a country's own government site. The right-hand links point to useful websites. Click the individual FLAGS for detailed Information about EU Member States
The European Treaties
| || | There are four founding European Treaties: (see also EU Parliament fact sheets)
1. The Treaty of Paris (signed 1951, effective 1952) established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which began the process of European integration.
2 & 3. The Treaties of Rome (signed 1957, effective 1958) added two more communities, establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM). The name of the EEC was changed to European Community (EC) by the Maastricht Treaty (see number four below) and that "EC Treaty" without EURATOM is generally now called the "Treaty of Rome".
4. The Treaty on European Union, also known as the Maastricht Treaty (signed 1992, effective 1993) changed the name of the European Economic Community (EEC) to European Community (EC) and created a new entity called the European Union (EU).
The following treaties made significant amendments to the treaty structure:
The Merger Treaty (signed 1965, effective 1967) provided for a single Commission and a single Council for the then three European Communities.
The Single European Act (SEA) (effective 1987) made modifications toward a single Internal Market.
The Treaty of Amsterdam (signed 1997, effective 1999) amended and renumbered the EU and EC Treaties, appending consolidated versions of those treaties to the treaty. The articles of the EU Treaty, originally lettered A to S, were now ordered numerically.
The Treaty of Nice (signed 2001, effective 2003) enabled the enlargement of the EU.
People often refer to the THREE PILLARS of the European Union. These are:
The FIRST PILLAR. The first pillar is The Community, as set out in the Treaties and covering e.g. Union citizenship, Community policies, Economic and Monetary Union (i.e. a single market and a single currency).
The SECOND PILLAR. The second pillar is common foreign and security policy, which comes under Title V of the EU Treaty.
The THIRD PILLAR. The third pillar is police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, which comes under Title VI of the EU Treaty.
These pillars are important designations for decisionmaking by the Council of the European Union. For matters involving the first pillar, a qualified majority vote of member governments is required for decision. For the second and third pillars, decisions are intergovernmental and Member States must reach a consensus, i.e. unanimity. For certain controversial matters, this distinction leads to differences among governments as to the assignment of those matters to a given pillar, since that assignment directly affects the majorities which have to be achieved to implement a particular decision.
The EU System of Government
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The European Union System of Government
This is a general summary. Details and more links are found further below on this page.
The democratic system of government of the European Union is unique, because it is a specially-designed "pooling" of sovereignty. Through treaties, agreed to by the presidents and prime ministers of the EU Member States and ratified by their national parliaments, Member States delegate some (but not all) of their national decision-making powers to shared institutions at the EU, while keeping their own national sovereignty at home intact.
The powers and duties of EU institutions reflect this special situation, involving a system of political "checks and balances" which was designed to make EU integration possible.
The European Parliament of 732 members represents the citizens of the European Union. MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) are elected by direct popular vote in each Member State. As a product of the historical development of the EU, the EU Parliament does not itself propose laws. Rather, through "codecision" with the Council of the European Union, the Parliament has the power to amend and adopt laws initiated by the EU Commission, which has the greater resources and personnel required for legislative research work and for interchange with the Council of the European Union.
The Council of the European Union is the major policy-maker of the EU and has the power of codecision on legislation, a power which it shares with Parliament. The Council represents the governments of the individual Member States and is composed of Ministers from those Member States, who meet in nine different configurations (see further below).
The European Commission of 25 commissioners (one per Member State) is nominated by the Council of the EU and the Member States, subject to approval by the European Parliament. The European Commission serves as the executive body of the EU. Through its ca. 24,000 employees, it runs the day-to-day business of the European Union, initiating legislation and applying the treaties of the EU to make sure that regulations, directives, and decisions of the EU are observed by Member States.
The Court of Justice (Curia) of 25 Judges (one per Member State) and 8 Advocates-General is responsible for upholding the rule of European Union law in Member States of the EU in cases involving governments or corporations. Since 1988 there is also a lower Court of First Instance.
The Court of Auditors checks income and expenditures within the EU budget.
The European Ombudsman is the office for complaints concerning EU maladministration.
The European Data Protection Supervisor observes to make sure that individual privacy rights are respected by EU institutions and bodies when dealing with personal data.
The European Central Bank guides European monetary policy;
The European Investment Bank invests in EU projects. It is also the majority shareholder in the European Investment Fund, which specializes in venture capital instruments and guarantee instruments for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The European Economic and Social Committee is an advisory body which represents "organised civil society" consisting of employers, trade unions, farmers, consumers and other interest groups.
The Committee of the Regions is an advisory body of regional and local authorities.
The Office for Official Publications of the European Communities produces and distributes all EU publications, both paper and digital, and including websites and web-related databases.
The European Communities Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) prepares open competitions to select highly qualified staff for recruitment to all institutions of the European Union. This is a new body which only became operational in January, 2003.
Community agencies (see EU agencies further below) handle specific technical, scientific or management tasks.
Agencies of the Common Foreign and Security Policy The European Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC) handle specific tasks relating to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
Agencies for Police and Judicial Co-operation in criminal matters Europol (European Police Office) and Eurojust (European body for the enhancement of judicial co-operation) help co-ordinate police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
EU Institutions and Bodies
| || | The Council of the EU
The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making body of the European Union at the highest level of policy decisionmaking.
The main functions of the Council of the European Union are:
1. The Council approves EU Legislation by codecision with the EU Parliament.
Laws of the European Union are initiated by the European Commission and approved by codecision of the Council and the European Parliament (Article 251 of the EC Treaty) (see glossary, step-by-step process and law-making flow chart).
2. The Council co-ordinates the broad economic policies of Member States.
3. The Council defines and implements the EU's common foreign and security policy, based on guidelines set by the European Council (not the same as the Council of the European Union or the non-EU Council of Europe).
4. The Council concludes, on behalf of the Community and the Union, inter-national agreements between the EU and one or more states or international organisations.
5. The Council co-ordinates the actions of member states and adopts measures in the area of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
6. The Council and the European Parliament constitute the budgetary authority that adopts the Community’s budget. [This is ca. €100 billion.]
Ministers of all the Member States of the EU make up the Council of the European Union, which meets in nine different configurations depending on the subjects being examined. These nine are:
1. General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC)
2. Economic and Financial Affairs Council
"Ecofin" meets monthly covering EU economic policies, including the Euro. It decides mainly by qualified majority, in consultation or codecision with the European Parliament, exception for fiscal matters, which are decided by unanimity.
The Ecofin Council, together with the European Parliament, prepare and adopt the budget of the European Union [now about 100 billion euros]."
3. Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA)
4. Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO)
5. Competitiveness Council
6. Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (TTE)
7. Agriculture and Fisheries Council
8. Environment Council
9. Education, Youth and Culture Council (EYC)
The Council meets at its seat in Brussels, although meetings are also held in Luxembourg in April, June and October. The agenda of the Council is prepared by the Permanent Representatives Committee of the Member States in Brussels and their assistants, whose work in turn is prepared by ca. 250 committees and groups of delegates from the EU Member States.
The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months to another Member State.
Unanimous Council decisions are required for foreign and security policy and taxation.
Council decisions in other areas are made by qualified majorities, where each Member State has weighted votes related to the size of its population. The weighting of 321 total votes of the ministers in the Council of the European Union pursuant to the Treaty of Nice, effective November 1, 2004, is:
France, Germany, Italy and the UK: 29 weighted votes each
Poland and Spain: 27 votes each
Netherlands: 13 votes
Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary and Portugal: 12 votes each
Austria and Sweden: 10 votes each
Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia and Finland: 7 votes each
Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Slovenia: 4 votes each
Malta: 3 votes
A newly defined qualified majority in the Council is now reached if a majority of Member States (i.e. at least 13) approve and if a minimum of 232 of 321 of the votes (72.27%) is cast in favor... "In addition, a Member State may request verification that the qualified majority includes at least 62% of the Union’s total population. Should this not be the case, the decision will not be adopted." These figures will change through future enlargement, e.g. when Bulgaria and Romania join the EU.
The Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors is responsible for checking management of the EU budget and the legality of receipts and expenditures.
The European Ombudsman is an intermediary between the EU and the complaints of its citizens.
European Data Protection Supervisor
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) insures that EU institutions respect the right to privacy when processing people's personal data.
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank (ECB) manages the Euro currency and frames and implements EU monetary policy.
European Investment Bank
The European Investment Bank (EIB) invests in projects that promote objectives of the European Union.
Advisory Body to the EU:
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
The European Economic and Social Committee EESC of 317 members was established by Article 257 of the EC Treaty. and provides Europe's employers, employees and others a formal platform to express their views.
Advisory Body to the EU: The Committee of the Regions (CoR)
The CoR provides local and regional authorities with an EU voice and must be consulted by the Commission and Council if proposals impact regional or local levels, such as regional policy, the environment, education and transport.
| || | The EU Commission
The Commission of the European Union " upholds the general interest of the Union and is the driving force in the Union's institutional system".
The main functions of the European Commission are:
1. The Commission initiates EU legislation. The Commission proposes new EU laws, which are sent to the Council of the European Union and to the European Parliament for amendment and approval by codecision. (Article 251 of the EC Treaty, see glossary, step-by-step process and law-making flow chart).
2. The Commission is the executive body of the EU. It implements EU policies and manages the EU budget.
3. The Commission enforces EU treaties. The Commission enforces EU law (jointly with the Court of Justice) and can institute legal proceedings against Member States or corporations.
4. The Commission represents the EU in international affairs by negotiating international agreements, mainly those relating to trade and co-operation.
The European Commission is seated in Brussels. The Commission also has offices in Luxembourg, representations in all EU countries and delegations in many capital cities around the world.
Since 2004 the Commission is made up of 25 members, one per Member State, who meet once a week to adopt proposals, finalize policy papers and make decisions, which are taken by simple majority vote.
The President of the Commission serves for 2 years and is nominated by the Council. Each Member State then nominates a Commissioner, who serves a renewable term of 5 years. The EU Parliament must approve the appointment of the President and the other Commission members. Otherwise, as happened in 2004, the selection process must be repeated until suitable nominees are found.
The present Commission took office on November 22, 2004.The former Prime Minister of Portugal, José Manuel Durão Barroso, is the current President of the European Commission. He assigns the areas of responsibility to Commissioners.
Each Commissioner appoints his or her own cabinet staff of a small group of counsellors. Commissioners act for the EU and not for their own Member States.